Day One-Hundred-and-Two: We all need therapy (a post involving brownies)

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What’s this about bacon?

I had a stress dream last night. The finer details elude me, but I know that I was trying to escape from something/somewhere/someone. This may be attributable to all the Walking Dead I’ve been watching lately, or the impending job interviews on the horizon. Either way, it’s not a great way to get your nightly rest.

Breakfast and a shower are sometimes all it takes to set things right. Not today. Today called for more intense therapy.

Enter baking.

Baking for me is kind of a double-edged sword. I should mention that I have zero natural flair for cooking. I have no sense of how long to cook things, which flavours will go together (although this is improving with time), and the combination/ratio of ingredients required to ‘just wing’ a dish. I like recipes. No, that’s not true. I love recipes. I love that recipes are freely available on the internet. I love that I can type ‘paleo desserts’ (the diet name that covers all of my intolerances, despite my not actually being paleo) into Google, and get pages upon pages of delicious and bizarre creations to drool over.

I really enjoy baking. When it works. When it doesn’t work, and I have rock-hard pancakes, soggy brownies, or wrong-tasting raw chocolate, it’s not good to be around me. There are knives in the kitchen, and you know…

The funny thing is that my failures never put me off. I just resolve to find a better recipe, to trust my gut (taste-buds) more, and get back on that horse.

The real therapy comes in the final stages, where your ingredients have met in the bowl, and you pour that delicious goop into a tray/tin/mould and watch it become something else in the oven (or fridge – the raw stuff inspires the same kind of awe despite the lack of viewing window). It’s out of my hands at that stage, and all I can do is trust that the recipe is a winner, that my oven is consistent, and that I remember to set the timer.

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This is where the magic happens.

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Damn, baby, you look goooood.

 

Part two of the baking therapy (and this is the part that actually kind of feeds into my obsessive nature and probably isn’t therapy at all) is the clean-up. This is what oven time is for, people. Sure, you’re going to want to spend at least five minutes staring into the oven, enjoying/hating the waves of heat, and wondering if it’s possible to speed this shit up in any way. What you should be doing instead is putting away all the ingredients, washing up the mixing bowl and measuring equipment, and wiping the benches until they sparkle. There’s something satisfying about a clean kitchen. Especially when you pull that baked treat out of the oven. You do not want to place that beauty to cool next to an explosion of flour and a pile of dishes, do you? (If yes, you’re a monster, and you don’t deserve baked-goods-babies.)

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Can you feel the zen? Can you?

 

Part three is the hardest part: waiting for that sucker to cool. Since you’ve already cleaned the kitchen, you deserve some relaxing time. Of course, there’s nothing relaxing about resisting the scent of baked goods wafting through your house. You’ll be telling yourself that third degree burns are worth it to experience the flavour just five minutes earlier.

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Hint: use the exhaust fan to speed up the cooling. Or just to make yourself think you’re speeding up the cooling.

 

Part four is bittersweet. Sometimes your baked goods are also bittersweet; this is a success. Mmmm bittersweet. But I digress. The final stage of the therapy is the most nerve-wracking. You’re finally going to taste the thing that occupied the last hour (usually more) of your time. Will it be worth it? Will your baking dreams be validated? Did you use enough sweetener? The first cut is the deepest. Or, like, the most important. This usually determines the inner texture of a baked good, and whether it cooked all the way through. It’s like on Masterchef, except there’s no irritating ad break, and the only fat judge in your kitchen is you. (Not that you’re fat, but when it comes to food it’s surprising that you’re not enormous.) A failure is disappointing. It leaves you wondering where you went wrong, and who the hell is going to want to eat weird-tasting chocolate sludge. (If you have a brother, that one’s not so hard to answer.) A failure makes you hungry, not only for better-tasting goods, but also for redemption. You will try this again, and you will succeed! Yeah, cook power!

A success? Well… Have you ever made love to an angel on top of a mountain while Elton John plays Your Song on a chocolate-coated piano? I haven’t either. But I imagine the two are similar. Baking successes are those therapy sessions where you walk out smiling and fist pump the air like you’re in a romantic comedy. “I think I’m gonna be alllllll right, Doc,” you tell your bemused therapist through a mouthful of molten chocolate (your therapist in this case being your oven).

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The dampest cake I’ve had all year!

 

Today’s therapy was sweet potato brownies from Eat Drink Paleo (http://eatdrinkpaleo.com.au/chocolate-brownies-that-blew-me-away/). And they are good. See? I already took a bite. (Excuse the terrible photography. Not so pro at food blogging. I was going to stack them on a plate all artistic-like, but I don’t want to wash a plate.)

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Pull focus from gnarly chewed-on brownie. Good call, auto-focus.

 

If you now feel like some baking therapy, I would encourage you to get onto this. Brownies have double therapy points because, well, brownies. And these ones are healthy, too.

(If you’re interested, I subbed coconut oil for the olive oil, only used a tsp of baking powder and half a tsp of baking soda, and just over half a cup of raw cacao – tasting after each quarter cup. Cue bittersweet, fluffy brownies. Look at me, trusting my gut over here.)

Therapy: success!

 

Now, if you’ll excuse me I have to go “clean” the brownie pan.

 

TB

Day Twenty: Why grocery shopping makes me feel like a child

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It is just me or does food shopping make everyone crazy?

In a fit of independence (throw your hands up at me!) I decided that I would surprise my boyfriend by doing the shopping. He’s done it for me probably ten times. I’ll come home from work when he’s had a day off, and the fridge and pantry are overflowing with vittles. It’s pretty awesome, but makes me feel like a non-contributing bum. After all, whoever goes, pays.

The shopping expedition starts with a list. I feel mega organised because I’ve gone through the cupboards and noted what is lacking, and I pat myself on the back for remembering to place the list in my bag before leaving. Obviously this memory thing doesn’t extend to all areas of the shopping trip; I get downstairs to my car before I remember that I didn’t bring the effing bags. (We have those ‘green’ bags that make me feel less like an environmental terrorist.)

Off to a great start, I mumble to myself, then immediately check my neighbours’ balcony overhead to see if they’re on their way to call a mental health specialist.

I trudge back up the stairs and grab the bags. At least I didn’t leave without them, right? I sternly remind myself to take them inside the shopping centre when I arrive, and set off to do my grown-up duty.

The problem I have with shopping (and supermarkets in particular) is that it overwhelms me. I don’t know if it’s the lights, or the colourful displays, or just the sheer volume of shit on offer, but it makes my heart race and my brain turn to mush. I think I get this from my dad. He hates shopping with a passion. He’ll do the Christmas buying in one day, non-stop, until it’s done and he doesn’t have to face the horror again for another year. With that time of the year approaching again, I fear for my own sanity.

 

When I shop alone, I feel like I’m still a little kid. It’s like that for three reasons:

1. I cannot control a full trolley (or indeed a half-full trolley)

I’m not sure whether all people of low weight have this problem, or I’m just maneouvering it so poorly that I’m pushing against all the laws of physics. Either way, I feel like I’m about seven years old, and I need my mum to come and take the reins. Straight ahead is fine; it’s getting the damn thing to turn a corner that gets me. I know people are watching in amusement as I dig in my feet, strain my arms, and make a face as I slide my trolley awkwardly around a bend. Or just to the side slightly. I’d like to blame the age of the trolley (I know that the super old ones are notoriously lop-sided and rickety) but the ones at my supermarket are shiny and new. When I come up against a walker in an aisle I always smile apologetically, but what I really mean is, well it’s going to take me far longer to move this fucking thing than it will take you to walk around it. Mostly, though, I’m just jumping on the stupid thing and joy-riding through the carpark.

 

2. I impulse buy

I think I also get this from my dad. At times when my mum has been away (she’s the go-to teacher to chaperone awesome overseas trips) it has fallen to Dad to feed us, wash our clothes, and shop for food. It’s not that he’d never shopped for us before, but Mum was just efficient and willing to do it (and was the one cooking most of the meals). The first time Mum went overseas, we ended up with a cupboard full of Home Brand everything. I’ve never seen so much yellow. Dad bought things that we’d never had or expressed an interest in before–choc-cream biscuits, tinned berries, ‘fun’ new products clearly from the aisle ends. Now that I’m shopping for myself, I know how this happened. Supermarkets are fraught with panic- and excitement-inducing traps. If something says ‘new’ or has its own display, you’d better believe I’m going to be over there looking at it. When my boyfriend shops with me, I’ll show him things, my eyes shining.

“I’ve heard about this!” I tell him.

“Twelve bucks! That’s a bit hexy,” he says sensibly.

Today it was mangoes. I love mangoes. If I could eat one fruit forever, it’d be nectarines, but mangoes rate pretty highly. Without the sensible voice of the bf, I bought two for eight bucks (not a bargain, I know. Please help me). I then proceeded to the ‘reject’ table, where the overripe fruit is packaged up and marked down. Two probably-too-soft-to-eat-cleanly mangoes were half the price of the fresh ones. Did I stop and think that four mangoes between two people was a bad idea, given that it was hot and they’d be overripe in two days anyway? No, sir. I bought both. I’ll make smoothies/juice, I told myself, It’s a bargain. It’s only a bargain if you were going to buy it anyway and got a better price. In the quiet calm of my home, I know this. Damn those fluorescent lights!

 

3. I get tired quickly

When I’m shopping and I hear a baby crying or a toddler throwing a tantrum, I can understand it. I hear you, kid, I think as I drag the afore-mentioned trolley from aisle to aisle, trying to avoid looking at the cheap homewares in the centre of Aldi. Physically, I get sore feet (because I wear sandals and not hiking boots like I should), my back aches from hunching over the trolley, and my eyes burn from the blasting air-conditioning. Mentally, I’m full of self-doubt about my purchases, worry that I’m spending too much, and sensory overload from all the crazy colours and sounds. If that’s enough to set an adult’s teeth on edge, I can imagine how bad it must be for a kid. By the time I’ve been to four different shops to pick up the things that we need–we buy our fruit from the proper fruit shop, and the better (read: more expensive) tuna from Woolies–I’ve traversed a good kilometre, endured temperatures that vary from comfortable to ice-box, and produced my wallet more times than I care to mention. If I had been dragged along on that journey against my will, I’d be melting down in the middle of Aldi too. The drive home is a small respite before loading up on heavy bags (all of them at once, obviously, because I’m not going to do another trip), fiddling with keys, climbing two flights of stairs, fiddling with keys again, and putting all the stuff away. No wonder I feel like napping.

 

Food shopping can be a little quicker and a little less painful with a bit of preparation–making a list and sticking to it, keeping your eyes on the prize, and limiting your trolley-load to something you can handle (also good for saving money since you’re buying fewer things). Mostly though, it’s something that I’d prefer to share with someone else. The excited grabber needs the sensible money-considerer; the habitual forgetter needs the elephant; the same-shit-every-weeker needs the shake-it-upperer.

What I really need though is a strong trolley-pusher, blinkers to keep me focussed, and a good sleep.

 

Now, if you’ll excuse me, there are some mangoes that need my attention.

 

TB

Day Fourteen: Domestic Dick Moves

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Why, Susie, now we just leave it here on the bench for three days and expect it not to get stale.

 

My boyfriend and I were talking last night (in the brief window of time between me getting home from work and him going off to night shift) and he told me he’d been looking at the kitchen that day.

“I was actually going to move some stuff around,” he said.

“What do you mean?” I asked, narrowing my eyes.

“Just, like, change the cupboards around, where things are and stuff,” he answered, before adding quickly: “But I didn’t.”

I let out a sigh of relief. “Thank god.”

He smiled. “Yeah, I knew you’d hate it.”

Yes, my friends, I would hate it. I’m not against change or anything, but I prefer to be included when the stuff I use everyday is going to be relocated. I told him that we could do it together. If I see the stuff being moved, I will be able to accept that it lives somewhere different, and I won’t spend the first minute of my time in the kitchen every day swearing and slamming cupboards. Doing a random (and unwelcome) kitchen–or indeed any room–reshuffle is what I like to call a Domestic Dick Move.

DDMs are all those little things that the people around you do to mess with your domestic bliss. They apply mostly at home, but I’ve also experienced them in the workplace. They make you want to find the person responsible and rub their nose in it like you would to a dog that shat on your carpet.

“NO!” you want to scream. “Bad, naughty!”

Throwing coffee grounds into a clean sink/washing up water

OK, so you only have one sink and that can be tough. That doesn’t mean that your sudden and urgent need to dispose of coffee grounds (which you shouldn’t really be putting down the sink anyway, but whatever) overrides the basic courtesy of not showering innocent cups/plates/bowls with tiny black granules of mess. I’ve often left a few cups in the sink (sometimes even soaking in fresh, soapy water) only to come back minutes later to find that a entire ant colony has met their watery grave. Oh, no, wait. That’s just your coffee grounds.

Here’s an idea: move the cups/plates/bowls before you dump. Even better, wash them up for me. If you are going to befoul the sink, perhaps think about rinsing all of the grounds down the sink and not just the ones in the immediate vicinity of the drain.

And don’t, I repeat DO NOT tip your little flecks of death over the sponge. It means that every time I wipe or wash something, I’ll leave a little trail of black behind. If you’ve never tried getting coffee grounds out of a sponge, try pouring glitter into your hair and attempting to remove it from where it’s glued to your scalp with a gentle trickle of water.


Failing to seal open food items properly

I was at a friend’s place once and she reached into her pantry to grab a bag of Doritos. I have no idea how long the bag had been there, but no attempt had been made to exclude the outside air, not even a crude fold. She plucked a chip from the packet and chewed it thoughtfully.

“Oh,” she said, looking crestfallen. “They’re stale.”

Of course they’re fucking stale. You don’t leave your dinner on the floor and look surprised when the dog eats it. That bag of Doritos was her problem, but if it’s food I’ve paid for (or my parents have paid for but I really like) it will become my problem very quickly. I’m sure most people understand the basic principle of preserving food for later consumption. If it’s touching the air, there’s a strong likelihood of it being stale/off/crawling with bacteria. So why I’ve found things with their lids not all the way on or completely uncovered is beyond me. Just imagine the delicious, fresh, crispy food we could be eating if people just took a few extra seconds to screw that lid all the way on or glad-wrap that salad. You’d think it was disgusting if you saw it in a restaurant, so don’t subject your housemates/workmates to it.

Leaving minute amounts of product left in bottles/jars/boxes

I’m not sure whether you’ve stopped just short of finishing the packet because you weren’t quite hungry enough, or you’re just too lazy to dispose of the packaging afterwards. This was one that my mum always bemoaned.

“Why do you kids leave one tiny serving of cereal left in the boxes?” she’d ask, shaking the Cornflakes in our faces.

We didn’t tell her, but everyone knew that the crumbs at the bottom were gross, and it fell to Dad to eat the dregs of every box (sometimes all at once). As I got older though, I did feel her pain. The disappointment of seeing your favourite food in the pantry, grabbing it, only to find it almost empty is a pain I know all too well. I feel like the mentality behind it is similar to the bin rule: “He who tops it off, drops it off.” It’s also frustrating when you don’t pick up more cereal on the groceries because it looks like there’s already some in the cupboard. So, take one for the team. Put that extra 10mL of milk of your cereal; shake those crumbs into your bowl; treat yourself to that last cookie and then throw the god-damn packet in the bin. Please.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to hog most of the bed, read my phone in the dark while my boyfriend tries to sleep, and maybe cram an extra set of drawers into the room because I don’t feel like he gets to see enough of my crap when he opens up the two wardrobes or existing chest of drawers.

TB

Day Nine: Peer Pressure (now in adult sizes)

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It’s your first real high school party and you’re really nervous. You’re not exactly cool at school (although you’re not a complete loser either) and you want to make a good impression. You rock up with your friend after having your dad drop you a little way down the road–because it is really not ok for him to be seen with you. You’re wearing an outfit that you saw on a mannequin at Sportsgirl and you feel kind of fashionable for once in your life. You and your friend follow the pulsing beat around the side of the house and into the backyard. Everywhere you look, kids are drinking, smoking, laughing, kissing. The girl who invited you sees you from across the yard and totters over in her riduculous heels (at a backyard party? Seriously?).

“Heyyyyy!” she slurs, grabbing onto you, probably for stability. “Come in, sit down, have some drinks!”

You’re led over to a group of guys and girls and introduced. You lower yourself into a deck chair and smile awkwardly at the people around you. The host comes back moments later with two cups of mystery liquid and pushes one into your hand.

“What is it?” you ask.

“Haha, you’re so cute,” she says, even though you’re deadly serious and actually older than she is. “It’s goon.”

You know what goon is. You’ve seen the aftermath spawled on the footpaths some Friday nights when you’re driving home from dinner with your parents. You understand what drinking this stuff will do to your body. You stare at the clear liquid a moment longer before handing it back to your host.

“I think I’ll pass.”

It’s like the whole party stops. Like that mortifying moment when the music drops out and the word you happen to be yelling over the noise is ‘vagina’. The people in your circle look at you, somewhat puzzled.

“Why aren’t you having any?” one asks, almost wounded.

“Go on,” says another, who you’re pretty sure you’ve never met. “Live a little.”

Eventually, everyone shrugs and goes back to their drinks. You watch as they guzzle into intoxication. A couple of times you almost talk yourself into indulging ‘just this once’.

A little while later, someone comes up to you and tells you, between drags on their cigarette, that they really admire you for abstaining from booze.

“I wish I had your self control,” they tell you, wistfully. You feel more than a little patronised.

Adult social situations are much the same as teenage ones when it comes to drinking and food. Since I’ve been on a restrictive diet (for health, not image, reasons) I’ve encountered the above situation on more occasions than I’d care to count. In order to function at my best–and not be a sickly, crampy mess–I avoid gluten, dairy, and sugar. “All the good stuff,” people have joked to me before. Sure, I’d like to say. And all the stuff that contributes to chronic health problems.

The most common thing I come up against when refusing food and explaining my situation is, “oh, but surely just a little bit won’t hurt”. Actually, these foods in any amount are enough to make me quite uncomfortable. Unless you’d like me hunched over your toilet bowl (and not from drinking), please don’t try to suggest that I just have a nibble.

The second most common is the good old, “oh, that must suck”. You know what sucks more than ‘missing out’ on your delicious creamy dessert? Spending the next day with stabbing stomach pains. Also, flatulence.

The final, and arguably most frustrating, is the, “you’re so good. I could never do that”. Do you approach all areas of your life with that attitude, I wonder? Do you quit before you even begin? Thanks for the praise, but I’m not doing it to impress society at large; I’m doing it for my own personal health reasons. And for the record, yes, it is god-damned hard to overhaul your eating habits, but like anything, you get used to it after a while. Of course you could do it if you really tried; you’ve probably just never given yourself a chance.

It’s difficult to live contrary to most of your peers. If you’re strong enough to stick to your guns, you’ll encounter a lot of questions, but eventually a lot of admiration. It’s hard to watch other people ‘enjoying’ the things that you can’t/won’t eat, but the best thing to remember is that nothing tastes good enough to be worth the negative effects your body will suffer afterwards. (Plus, if you learn to make clean desserts, you’ll never miss out. And people sometimes actually prefer your treats to the traditional versions.)

Interestingly, when I was in the detox stage of my lifestyle change and didn’t consume alcohol either, I encountered almost the exact reactions that I did as a teen refusing a drink. The best part of adulthood and autonomy is being able to control your own environment: food, exercise, hobbies. That’s the whole point of moving out, right? It’s the best chance you’ll have to start from scratch, form new habits, and live the life you’ve always wanted to.

TB